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SOLVED Unusual radeon hd 7870 problems...

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Maybe Something Cool?
Sep 27, 2009
MS Gulf Coast
My PC [for reference]
CPU: AMD Phenom II x4 965 BE
Mainboard: ASRock 770 iCafe socket AM3+
RAM: 8GB PC3-10600 DDR3@1333
GPU: Radeon HD 7870 2GB [single fan]
PSU: Antec Earthwatts 650W [EA650]
HDD1: Western Digital 650GB SATA III [primary w/OS]
HDD2: Western Digital 350GB SATA III [storage w/o OS]
OS: Windows 7 ultimate x64
Video Driver: Catalyst suite ver 13.1 [current]

I'm hoping a veteran tech/modder whom cruises these boards often happens to stumble across this thread because I could really use the help. I've been modding/building pc's all my life and for the first I've finally come across a problem that truly has me stumped. Please forgive me if this turns out to be a long post, but I have a lot of information to convey because it is a multi-facet problem and to give a decent understanding to the reader they have to know all aspects of the problem. I'm going to try to shorten it where I can.

So I went ahead and upgraded my old video card, a radeon hd 5770 1GB, to a new in the box 7870 2GB by XFX and the first thing I noticed was how it the 7870 requires (2) PCI-e 6 pin from my psu so I knew the power draw from the card was going to be huge, if not double from my 5770. At first the new card worked great...for about a week or so.

The problems I was having with the 7870 can be characterized by two main events:

[1] - There would be times when I would turn my PC on and sometime after POST but before windows loaded I would inexplicably lose the video signal and apparently windows would still continue to load even without the video. The monitor would go blank and the light on my monitor would go from blue [on w/ a video signal] to orange [on w/o a signal]. Hitting keys on the keyboard or moving the mouse would not bring back the signal and when this happened the only thing I could do was press and hold the power button for 5 seconds for a hard shutdown and reboot. I might go through 2 or 3 of these semi-failed boots before I could get into windows and keep a video signal. However, once I got into windows and had the machine running for a few minutes everything worked fairly well for the most part [see issue 2 coming up]. The problem is this issue with the loss of video signal happened infrequently so I never knew on which days and it would boot without a hitch and when I would have to go through this failed boot process. My computer might work for a week without a problem and then on a random day it would happen again.

[2] - The second incident with the 7870 was a relatively minor one, but still aggravating. After playing a game for 20-30 minutes I would hear the card's fan rev up to full speed and then cut back down. It would go through this process of randomly rev'ing up and then slowing back down. It would get to a point of I would become so aggravated I would have to cut the game off. The fan issue was most likely to occur on one of those random days when a failed boot with the loss of video had already happened and it would only occur during gaming. The fan did not act up playing videos or running any other multimedia application.

With the limited equipment I have at my disposal I did troubleshooting of my own and of course issues like these are going to break down into either being a hardware or software issue.

Well, I checked everything I could and couldn't figure it out so I ended up creating a support ticket with XFX and did a RMA to have them look at the card. When I took the 7870 out of my system I noticed traces of burnout on the silver backplate where the dvi ports are located. What I had found was black vapor and the best way I can describe black vapor is kind of like when you burn a tip of a paperclip with a flame until it turns red and then press it against a second paperclip - after a while you will see black vapor appear on the second paperclip. That's what I found on the back of the card and the back panel on my pc is metal just like the backplate of the 7870 so this convinced the problem was the card even more.

I ended up coming to the conclusion the problem was heat; the 7870 was not dissipating heat inside the case but building it up instead. When the card was getting hot outside of normal operational parameters there was a transference of heat between the backplate of the card and the back panel of my pc so traces of black vapor appeared on the card. This is the only sensible theory I have at the moment.

When I took the 7870 out and put my 5770 back in I did a clean driver removal and reinstall. Since running my machine with the 5770 for over a week now while the other card is in RMA my machine has been working perfectly normal. Not one failed boot, I can leave the pc on literally all day and it doesn't miss a beat when I launch an application, and the fan has not acted up at all. So this means the problem has to be the 7870, right?

Well, I called XFX to get a status update on my RMA and the tester did report back in today - no fault was found with the card...big frigging surprise there :bang head. The tech told me they tested the card in an open face barebone system which is literally a motherboard [with processor and ram], the card, a hard drive and a monitor. If the problem is heat, like I truly suspect, they wouldn't be able to tell nor cause the conditions of the problems to reoccur.

So, I'm waiting on their final decision, but they're more than likely just going to send the 7870 back to me. If the problems do reoccur when I put the 7870 back into my pc then I'm going to be left stuck and clueless.

Because I haven't had any issue running my 5770 I've pretty much ruled out other hardware for being the problem when I was running the 7870. If it was due to the pci-e slot on the motherboard or the psu then I should have encountered some kind of problem running my 5770, but everything has been fine and this includes gaming too. So, if the problems I had experienced are not due to the 7870, like XFX claim, then what gives? Any ideas?

I know there are a lot of very intelligent and knowledgeable techs out there so somebody has probably seen worse than this, right? I'm clueless, I feel like an idiot and I'm grasping at straws to make sense of it.
The XFX techs are going to run a stress test on the card, if they don't have anything out of the normal happen, they are going to call it a good card.

They get too many to actually spend any time investigating hard to duplicate issues.

Heat might be a contributing factor, warped sink-never seen this myself, but it would explain, maybe a ram chip is not getting good contact? or just a bad chip/sectors.

If the system is running fine with another graphics card, but not with this one, its obviously a bad card.

Unless youre running an oddball card like the sapphire 7870 with its 1536 stream procs, that is essentially a watered down 7950 but uses the 7870 drivers,
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814202024) the only logical solution is the card is bad.

COULD be the environment, but if that were the case, the old card should also present with errors of its own.
Well, I did not sleep much, so please forgive me if I missed something...

First thing I would do is try the card on a clean install of Windows . 5770 might work well, and not the 7870, even with a clean drivers install.

Then I would try the card on a diffrent PCIe slot.
Well I only have one PCI-e slot so trying a different one isn't an option.

I could have sworn I did a clean windows install when I originally put the 7870 in the system, but I'm not entirely sure.

Methal is right it's possible that it might be the environment, but since the 5770 doesn't present any errors and everything is running fine now it just doesn't seem as likely. I pretty much ruled out other hardware for much of the same reason. If the problem, I'm referring directly to the loss of video signal during boot, was an issue due to the windows environment or other hardware then my system should be malfunctioning even without the 7870, but that's not the case.

XFX has told me they were going to replace the card with a new one out of courtesy so when I get it back I'm going to do a clean driver install first. The instant I get a failed boot or the fan going crazy during gaming then I will reinstall windows. Hell, I might even try windows 8 if I think that will make a difference, but I need to find out if my motherboard drivers support win 8 first.
Just thought I would throw in an update for anyone who cared to know.

After receiving a new Radeon 7870, or a refurbished one, I did a clean install of windows. During my installation of windows drivers, updates and reloading my applications I had to restart windows a number of times and I have not had one loss of video or failed boot yet. I've done some gaming and the fan hasn't gone crazy so everything seems to be working well so far.

It has only been a day and the problem did not originally occur with the old card until after a week of use so I'm currently in a two week test phase to see if any error happens. If the next two weeks are uneventful and I don't have any issues arise then it will be safe to say then the problem is fixed.

Still not sure if it was the gpu or the windows environment, but a clean install [I kept win 7] and a new card seems to have fixed the issue for the time being.